TURNER: Kentucky General Assembly making most of 30-day legislative session

Published 6:10 pm Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Kentucky General Assembly is making the most of the 30-day legislative session. In the first eight days back in Frankfort, lawmakers have already delivered seven bills to the governor’s desk. I am happy to report that we are moving forward in deliberation but with purpose.

The past ten months have been challenging for us all. Anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have extended beyond just the dangerous health risk the virus poses to the vulnerable, but indirect consequences of government mandates negatively affecting students, businesses, and mental health. The passage of priority House and Senate bills shows the legislature’s commitment to being a co-equal branch of government and ensuring the representative branch of state government has a seat at the table as life-altering decisions are considered.

Senate Bill (SB) 1—This bill better defines executive authority during a state of emergency. It brings the representative branch of government to the table to be a voice for the communities its members represent. The bill will require legislative authorization before the governor can extend an executive order beyond 30 days if the order places restrictions on various public and private entities. The same requirement would exist for emergency executive orders. Similarly, it would require mutual agreement between the governor and the attorney general to suspend state statute during a state of emergency. Taking a less arbitrary and more targeted approach to addressing a state of emergency, SB1 would allow local officials to request an extension of executive orders only for their area and only for the amount of time they ask.

SB 2—For far too long, governors and their administrations have been able to blur the lines between executive and legislative branch authorities by making law through the use and abuse of the emergency regulatory process. SB 2 enhances this process’s legislative and public oversight by requiring an expedited public hearing and written comment period and allowing a legislative committee to review, amend, or find an emergency regulation deficient.

House Bill (HB) 1—Provides clarity and reassurances amid a state of emergency for businesses, schools, parents, teachers, students, and religious institutions that they may remain open and operational, if they follow a comprehensive operating plan that details how they will safely adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines or state guidelines, whichever is least restrictive.

Other bills that have reached the governor’s desk includes two pro-life measures. The governor is expected to veto these bills, but legislators who value the sanctity of human life and I will be glad to override his veto if he does. I am very proud that some of my first votes as your State Senator have been for pro-life bills like these.

SB 9—The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. It was passed last year before the governor vetoed it. It has been sent to him again. Unfortunately, last year’s veto came after lawmakers’ veto override period, and they could not override it. The bill ensures that a baby born-alive in any circumstance receives lifesaving care.

HB 2—Gives Kentucky’s Attorney General the authority to seek an injunction and civil or criminal penalties for violations of statutes and administrative regulations guiding the practice of abortion. Current law only allows the attorney general to take action if the Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services requests intervention.

I and other general assembly members, who value the sanctity of human life, are eager to override any vetoes the governor chooses to issue. Last Monday, Kentucky Right to Life held a pro-life rally alongside the attorney general and lawmakers, where commitment to defending these pro-life bills in the courts was restated.

Additional bills include:

HB 3—Establishes that challenges to the constitutionality of state statutes, executive orders, administrative regulations, or cabinet orders shall be filed in the county of the plaintiff’s residence. Currently, all suits filed against the state go through the Franklin Circuit Court and before a limited number of potential judges, essentially creating a “super circuit.” I spoke in favor of this bill on the Senate floor, because our judge in our circuit is just as qualified and capable of overseeing these cases as judges in the Franklin Circuit.

HB 5—Improves oversight of the reorganization of state boards. Governors have used these boards to fulfill political agendas and favors in the past. In fact, over the last five administrations, there have been over 445 reorganizations of state agencies, cabinets, or boards. The bill would require all executive branch and board reorganizations to require a vote of the general assembly and refine gubernatorial authority when the legislature is not in session.

The Constitution of Kentucky requires that the general assembly adjourn following the first part of the session. Wednesday, January 13, was our final day before adjourning in compliance with that constitutional requirement. The legislature will reconvene for the second part of the session on Tuesday, February 2. Before adjourning, the House and Senate have each passed their respective budget bill a part of the budget process. The next step in the process is for appointed member from both chambers to come together in a conference committee to finalize a continuing budget and transportation budget agreement to send to the governor. Budget bills include HB 192, the executive branch budget; HB 193, the transportation budget; HB 194, the legislative branch budget, and HB 195, the judicial branch budget. Myself and other senators of coal counties took a moment to stand and make it known we want one-hundred percent of coal severance dollars returned to coal counties like ours here in the 29th District. I feel confident in our efforts.

You can access each of these budget bills at legislature.ky.gov.

If you have any questions about any of these public policy issues, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have. You can reach my office toll-free by calling 502-564-8100 or by emailing me at johnnie.turner@lrc.ky.gov. God bless.